Groundwater levels continue to decline in the Upper Big Blue District, yet remain above allocation trigger

During March and April 2024, Upper Big Blue Natural Resources District staff measured roughly 500 observation wells throughout the district to determine the average water level change, based on a weighted change from each well. For spring 2024 water level measurements, the NRD has determined that the average groundwater level change shows a decline of 3.08 feet from last spring. The spring 2024 average groundwater level is now 3.6 feet above the “allocation trigger.” There will be no allocation restrictions enacted at this time.

Observation wells are measured in the spring of each year, allowing the water table to rebound from the previous irrigation season. The wells that are measured are uniformly distributed throughout the district to provide an accurate profile of the average groundwater level change. Each well measured is assigned an area of the district based on distances from other wells. This method gives the average groundwater level change a weighted average.

In spring 2023, the NRD reported an average decrease of 2.21 feet. Spring 2022 showed a decrease of 0.24 feet on average. Fluctuations from year to year are common throughout the district. The Upper Big Blue NRD sits above the High Plains Aquifer, which stretches from South Dakota to Texas. This portion of the aquifer is dynamic and factors like rainfall and pumping affect how the aquifer reacts.

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In addition to the average change, the NRD also provides a more detailed look at water levels across the district. Water levels declined most significantly in York, Butler, Polk, Fillmore and Clay Counties, each with a drop of more than three feet. Adams County saw the smallest decline, only dropping 1.47 feet. The rest of the district including Saline, Seward and Hamilton Counties all saw a decrease between one and two feet.

Water use records enable informed management decisions and practices

NRD staff says in recent years, “producers have done an exceptional job of managing use of district water resources and cooperating with the NRD on conservation activities and monitoring. Along with NRD staff measuring observation wells, all groundwater users are required to annually report their water use. This is how the NRD maintains records on historic groundwater usage. Groundwater use records are very important to the district for making informed management decisions. The 2023 district average groundwater usage was 9.56 inches/acre. The district average groundwater usage is 7.6 inches/year since 2007.

“The district’s goal is to hold the average groundwater level at or above the 1978 level. In 2005, the district average groundwater level reached the “reporting trigger,” initiating mandatory reporting of annual groundwater use to the district and certification of irrigated acres. If the district average water level falls below the 1978 level (allocation trigger), groundwater allocation will begin.

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